Effects of Ageing on Cognitive Development
I have heard lost of strange things about the elderly so often such that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate fact from myth. Some of the most common beliefs about ageing include arguments like, older people are preoccupied with death, disinterested in intimacy and relationships, adamant, and older people are all the same. However, my attention was not much attracted to these until I overheard a neighbor advising his friend not to argue with older folks, ‘’they are like children.’’ I could not reconcile my thoughts about the idea that elderly people are like minors. Are older people really like children? How do they become ‘’like children’ in the first place? Does aging impact cognitive ability so severely that older people can be compared to children?
Cognitive decline that is related to age is fairly documented in psychology research but the area is still under development. However, the extent to which such decline occurs in normal ageing does not approve of the assertion that older people are like children. A recent study by Ballesteros, Mayas & Reales (2013) did an investigation on the effect of ageing in memory, executive control and speed of processing in both healthy subjects and subjects with mild cognitive impairment. The researchers found evidence of age related cognitive decline in all the cognitive functions measured. However, there were higher levels of cognitive decline in individuals with soft cognitive impairment. The study also established that abnormal ageing (as in older people with cognitive impairment) increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Besides, the study also reported that young people showed better performance unlike the elderly in all cognitive functions that were measured; an implication that age has a positive correlation with cognitive decline.
The impacts of ageing on cognitive development have been reiterated in review studies like Ren et al. (2013) and Deary et al. (2012) that established that ageing negatively affects control processes including attention, memory and executive functions as well as mental representations. Besides, ageing also causes structural changes in the brain like the decline in cerebral volume, especially in the frontal, occipital and the temporal lobes. Moderate reductions also occur in the cerebellum and the hippocampus. The gray and white matter also decline in the ageing process, which may be attributed to the degeneration of executive and attention functions.
Beside the differences in cognitive decline in normal versus pathological ageing, there are variations even with normal ageing. Individual factors like genetic combination, medical conditions, biological processes and lifestyle influence the rate and nature of cognitive decline. Deary et al (2009) argue that the presence of several potential confounding variables in the relationship between ageing and cognitive decline render it premature to generalize even the most compelling of results. Poor replication, small effect sizes and reverse causation represent some underlying issues and controversies in this field. Deary et al (2009) further revealed that certain cognitive functions like verbal ability, general knowledge and some arithmetic skills last throughout the ageing process. However, other functions like reasoning, certain aspects of memory and executive functions decline. The deterioration in these mental abilities significantly impacts the ability of an individual to accomplish daily tasks, live independently and happily. In some mental domains, the decline could agitate the decline in other cognitive domains. For example, the decline in the speed of processing information has been associated with age-related decline in all other cognitive domains (Deary et al, 2009).
Although there is not a clear understanding of the pattern of cognitive ageing, the available literature does not suggest that normal cognitive ageing requires the comparison of older people with children. Only people with mental conditions show significant loss of cognitive function to the extent that they become dysfunctional in various aspects of their daily lives. For instance, older people with Alzheimer’s diseases show not only cognitive dysfunction but also significant behavioral limitations. Deary et al (2009) point out that the main problems encountered by researchers in the process of studying cognitive ageing concerns the separation of normal from pathological ageing because of the overlap of the signs of the common risks of cognitive ageing like heritability, diabetes, lifestyle and education with those of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. According to Deary et al (2009), over half of cognitive ability is heritable in accelerates with age. Cardiovascular conditions and abnormalities that are associated with the like inflammation may also lead to decline in cognitive functions by affecting the flow of blood to the brain.
Various inferences are achievable from the proof that has been presented. Foremost, most cognitive functions decline with age but the degree of such deterioration varies from one individual to another based on factors like overall health, genetics and lifestyle. Secondly, the idea that old people are like children lacks scientific proof since even if researchers concur on the reality of cognitive ageing, they do not give any hint that such deterioration is significant enough to impair their cognitive abilities to that of children. Finally, the various factors meditating the impact of ageing on cognitive ability makes it challenging to distinguish normal from abnormal cognitive ageing, which implies that further studies could be conducted before making any conclusions on this matter.
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Ballesteros, S., Mayas J. & Reales J. M. (2013). Cognitive function in normal aging and in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Psicothema 25(1), 18-24.
Deary, I. J., Corley J., Gow A. J., Harris, J. E., HOulihan, L. M., Marioni, R. E., Penke L., Rafnsson S. B. & Starr J. M. (2009). Age-associated cognitive decline. British Medical Bulletin 92, 135-152.
Ren, J., Wu Y. D., Chan J. S. & Yan J. H. (2013). Cognitive aging affects motor performance and learning. Geriatrics Gerontology International 13, 19-27.